What does the Bible say about Jesus and Christianity?
Does the Bible’s contents have credibility?
Can we accept the Bible as believable?
Now, this article won’t ‘sit well’ with the average atheist. But, the New Testament (the Jesus bits of the Bible) is accepted by Christian scholars as the best source of information on Jesus and the early Christian Church.
The contents of the New Testament that I have largely referred to in this article include the Gospels, the Book of Acts and the Epistles (letters) of Paul. The image above actually relates to the Epistles of Paul (discussed under Heading 4).
There are literally thousands of copies and fragments of relevant documents, related to the New Testament’s final contents in the Bible, that have been evaluated by Christian scholars. Those original records date from the mid first century until about 1,200 AD and verify that nothing of importance in the Bible has been altered over the centuries.
2. THE GOSPELS
There are four Gospels in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. (The word “Gospel” is usually interpreted to mean “good news”.) These are the “canonical gospels”. Now, many other gospels, or “non canonical gospels”, did became available for inclusion. But the four chosen were all in sync with each other, and clearly fitted with and supported the rest of the New Testament.
If you wish, you can research those other gospels to see why they were rejected. I can assure you that there is nothing sinister about it. Some were, for example, based on ‘gnostic’ thought. That added a level of religious complexity that was just downright unnecessary. It was ‘way off course’! And it did not even sit well with the Christian Old Testament (some of which is also accepted by the Jewish religion).
2.1 Synoptic gospels
Three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are grouped together because of their similar content and style. They are known as the “Synoptic Gospels”. The term relates to the parallels that can be viewed within them. Although not considered as certain, it is thought that “Mark” was the first Gospel produced and it was the basis of the other two Synoptic Gospels. Even the most cautious Christian scholars would not date Mark beyond 100 AD. However, it was probably written in the sixties of the first century, only thirty odd years after Jesus’ death.
Some scholars have even justified that it could have been written much earlier. It is therefore ‘possible’ that some of Jesus’ apostles were actually still alive at the time that the Gospels were written. That is, it was not impossible for them to have played a role in writing them.
It has also been theorised that all the gospels (even some of the non canonical ones) may have relied on other written sources of information. For example from records that were originally created with the aim of relaying Jesus’ ‘sayings’ on to his followers. Such theories are based on comparisons between the ‘canonical’ and ‘non canonical’ gospels.
The Synoptic Gospels discuss a little of Jesus’ early life, and provide us with a good understanding of his ministry. Bear in mind that their writers were less interested in exact historical detail, than they were in giving us the ability to actually ‘interpret’ Jesus through his parables, his “miracles” and speeches. This was because many of those indicated his divinity. That is, he was God in human form. The writers were just ‘highlighting’ key circumstances that they did know to be true.
Now, atheist writers love to jump on those small differences, mentioned above, found within the gospels. But those Biblical writers ‘just plain’ didn’t work to modern day rules. And their small deviations weren’t viewed as a problem amongst them at all.
AND, I know that a word like “miracles” as used above may spook some readers. BUT I can absolutely guarantee you that ‘this stuff‘ still happens in some areas of the Christian Church today. Yeah, it sure ‘rattled my cage’ when I personally found out that it did! And I mean when I really did witness it for myself (e.g. happening to my wife)!
2.2 Gospel of John
The “Gospel of John” on the other hand is quite different from the Synoptic Gospels. Although without doubt it is complementary to them, by and large, and it supports their content. It was written after the Synoptic Gospels, probably in the late first century or maybe even in the early second century.
Certainly the Gospel of John can be described as “elegant and sophisticated” when comparing it to the Synoptic Gospels. You just have to read its opening verses to get a taste of its ‘flavour’. Its wording would have appealed more to Greeks, at that time, who were familiar with their ‘Hellenistic’ philosophy.
So, the Gospel of John was probably aimed at a different audience than that of the Synoptic Gospels. However, again there is no doubt that it is very valuable for its theological input. That is because it gets to the REAL spiritual ‘nitty gritty’ of Christianity.
The Gospel of John also includes more complicated stories than those contained in the Synoptic Gospels. Like Paul’s Epistles (his letters), also in the Bible, the Gospel of John makes it VERY clear that ‘Jesus is God’. That is, it is stated much more clearly than in the Synoptic Gospels. I have presented more detail on this in the article, “Jesus as God”. That article highlights some of the ‘trails’ and ‘themes’ that continue from the Old Testament (OT) into the New Testament (NT). The OT stuff was definitely written hundreds of years before the NT. And OT verses included in that article mentioned above actually prophesise about Jesus AND that he would be God himself.
3. ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
The Book of “Acts of the Apostles” performs another important role within the Bible’s New Testament. It is believed to have been written or put together by the author of the Gospel of Luke. Interestingly, about a third of it is written in the ‘first person’, apparently as a diary of someone who travelled with St Paul on his journeys. Scholars believe that other parts of it were accessed from either ‘spoken’ or ‘written’ sources associated with St Peter in Jerusalem.
No matter how the segments were put together by the author, Christian experts recognise the finished product definitely has a clear plan and purpose running through it. Again, it ‘compliments’ and supports other areas of the New Testament when seriously analysed. It all just ‘comes up’ as so real!
3.1 Its historical importance
‘Acts’ is a very important document for a number of reasons. First and foremost it is an historical record of the early Christian church. That is, the journeys and actions of the Apostles, particularly Peter and Paul. It is believed to have been written before the year 65 AD, because of what it simply does not say. Despite including some ‘minor’ historical information, it does not include ‘important’ events that occurred after 65 AD: the deaths of Peter and Paul, the Jewish war, the ‘fall’ of Jerusalem. So it was clearly written no later than thirty years after Jesus’ death.
The content of Acts begins where the Gospels end. It relays the Apostles ‘witnessing’ about Jesus, i.e. after the reported and foretold arrival of the Holy Spirit (on the day of Pentecost). To actually read about the events of that day, please read Acts 2:1-47.
3.2 Clear statements about the future
Acts in fact makes clear, BOLD statements about what was to follow for Christianity:
- The Gospel belongs to the whole world;
- God led Jewish-born men to know that national boundaries of their faith should be broken down;
- There would be difficulty in getting the message out;
- But by the power of the Holy Spirit it would be achieved.
And oh so obviously, all this stuff truly did ‘come to pass’!
Acts also offers very important ‘threads’ that connect the contents of the individual ‘Epistles of Paul’ (that are discussed next). It is presumed to have been written after the Epistles of Paul. But look, it is very clear from small differences between them, that the writer of Acts has NOT read the Epistles. Despite these differences, there are so many other instances of fine detail, that absolutely agree, between the two. The two documents are definitely ‘in sync’. And that is fascinating to me! Clearly, they are both parts of the whole ‘real deal’.
Now your average atheist writer hasn’t got a ‘hope in hades’ of picking up this sort of stuff. The real evidence is just plain lost to them, because they can only concentrate on looking for the little negatives!
The historical details of Rome and Palestine, that Acts includes, also have some reassuring parallels with the historian Josephus’ writing. That is again a serious and positive finding.
4. THE EPISTLES OF PAUL
Now, epistles (letters) from writers, other than Paul, are also included in the Bible. But I have made the decision here to refer only to Paul’s letters. I’ve done so because they provide us with, what I think is, the best understanding of first century Christianity and its theology. Including high quality explanations of the actual beliefs, practises and events of the early Church.
4.1 A genuine record of early Christianity
The first of the letters of Paul were almost certainly written in the forties or fifties of the first century. It has been calculated by theologians, from other historical events mentioned in the Gospels, that Jesus died in the early to mid thirties of the first century. The ‘conversion’ of Paul (i.e. his own documented meeting with the ‘resurrected’ Jesus) has been timed to the late thirties of the first century. Please read Acts 9:1-19.
Although Paul writes with authority about Jesus, after his death and resurrection, he does not give us a great deal of information about the historical ‘human’ Jesus. It is not that he would not have known about the human Jesus, because for example he relays details about his personality. It can be assumed that he would have personally ‘preached’ details of the human Jesus often enough to his followers. But Paul probably did not feel the need to repeat these details in his letters.
Although Paul states that he learnt about the risen Lord (Jesus after his ascension to Heaven) from the supernatural Jesus at his ‘conversion’, he would have learnt much about the human Jesus from Jesus’ own Apostles. Paul gave us details of having met both Peter and Jesus’ brother, James on one occasion. Peter also visited Paul on another occasion. So there were opportunities for Paul to learn about the human Jesus from those who had lots of first hand knowledge about him.
4.2 Another good reason to trust Paul’s information
It is also certain that he had learnt much about the human Jesus, in earlier years, during the time that he actively ‘persecuted’ the early Christians. YES, Paul was actually an enemy of Christians before the ‘risen’ Jesus ‘confronted’ him and converted him to a totally obedient follower in no uncertain manner. (Again please read Acts 9:1-19.) Those events certainly made Paul’s important input to Christianity all the more impressive.
Again, we can therefore accept that Paul knew far more about the human Jesus than we can gather from his epistles. Clearly though, the most useful and credible sources of information on the human Jesus are the Gospels.
4.3 Epistles ‘in sync’ with 21st century ‘spiritual events’ in churches
In my eyes, the Epistles of Paul really gain credibility by mentioning the Spirit of God at work within the ancient Church. That included the use of spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit (by Church members). AS mentioned under subheading 2.1 above I can ABSOLUTELY vouch for the fact that this ‘supernatural’ stuff also occurs in these modern times of ours. And wow … yes, I can guess how that might look to you, if you’ve never been involved there! Yes, as that ex atheist that I was, and qualified practising auditor, it totally ‘rocked my socks’ at the time.
A bit more detail on this subject is included in this subsection’s following and final article, “The Big Picture“.
4.4 Paul’s theology still makes sense
Paul was also, in effect, the first to clearly explain Christian theology in its own right. Essential examples are: Jesus died to save us; faith in him as our ‘redeemer’ does actually save us; Jesus was raised from the dead; Jesus is God.
On the one hand, Peter and the other Apostles in Jerusalem had little need to present any theology to their followers. They had Jewish followers. And, as practising Jews, they all understood that their message of the resurrected Jesus and his ‘saving grace‘ provided an extension to the Jewish religion.
Paul, on the other hand, led the thrust of bringing Christianity to the rest of the world; to the completely uninitiated, i.e. the so-called, “Gentiles”. Yes, Paul HAD to clarify ‘Christology’, in his own mind, so that he could explain it to those who may have had little knowledge of even the Jewish religion.
5. THE ‘NEW’ CONCEPT
Now … the ‘concept’ of God the Father (i.e. similar in character to the Jewish Yahweh and Islamic Allah) is acceptable within the three monotheist religions.
But … when the concept of Jesus is fully understood a HUGE ‘enrichment’ happens. The term “grace” (remember the beautiful old hymn “Amazing Grace” that is so often sung at funerals) sits at the heart of this enrichment. It’s all about love. SERIOUSLY about love!
I mean this is about a God with unlimited love for each and every one of us, who agonisingly died on a wooden cross as a result.
Indeed, the end result of accepted Christian writings is the basis of a ‘religion of love’: God’s love of us; our love for both God and our fellow human beings. Indeed, if only the darkness could understand the light that shines within it. [see John 1:5] What an ideal world we would have! For a better understanding of Christianity itself, its ‘rules’ of love and the term “grace”, please read the article “Christianity explained”.
Look, how could the themes carried through the New Testament just be the work of fraudsters, as atheist writers tell us? Really! I admit that, as a Christian, it might ‘appear’ difficult for me to be truly objective. But bear in mind that as a long practising Christian, and ‘experienced professional analyst‘, the sheer complexity of the overall works has become all the more clear and relative to me.
6. WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE JESUS’ FOLLOWERS?
Without doubt though, the ‘most difficult bit for beginners’ is to accept the truth of Jesus’ divinity, i.e. Jesus arose from the dead; Jesus is God! As I have already stated, the inclusion of this ‘belief’ within early Christianity is indicated even in evidence from ancient non Christian sources. And of course the New Testament insists upon it. Even the Old Testament explained it ‘was to be’ hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. BUT, it is not easy for the modern mind to accept. I fully understand this! At first I had real trouble with it, when struggling to initially gain ‘Christian faith’ over thirty years ago. That is before ‘putting in’ all that study and practise of mine.
Firstly, we need to ask ourselves why on earth would the Apostles ‘proclaim’ that Jesus was the risen Lord (i.e. God)? That is when they knew that they ‘risked life and limb’ by doing so! YES, we know that many of the Apostles did ‘historically’ lose their lives as a result. Why would they have been so sure about it, to even accepting their own deaths over it, IF they had not seen it for themselves?
We also know that it was not easy for James, the brother of Jesus, to believe that his own brother really was the risen, divine Messiah (the Christ). Christian sources state that the resurrected Jesus had to prove it to him personally. And from Josephus’ writing, we know that James went on to be condemned to death for his ‘witnessing’ about Jesus as such. Again James died, because he dared to testify that ‘his brother was God’.
Paul also endured incredible suffering, as well as eventual execution, for exactly the same reason. I would say that Paul’s letters (written by him through his determination in the face of severe hardship) provide us with a solid step towards understanding the ‘real’ Jesus. It is evident that Paul genuinely believed himself to be in communion with the living Lord, and was ready to do whatever he was called to do. And I mean NO MATTER what the cost.
7. WE CAN EXPERIENCE ‘EVIDENCE’ NOW
For myself though, as with most Christians, it ultimately comes down to proving its basis for ourselves, i.e. by putting Bible-based Christianity into practice within the Church and our lives. Without doubt, I can write that our ‘lives are transformed‘ as a result.
And of course we come to fully understand the incredible scriptural threads that run through the whole Bible. If ‘old analytical me’ could do so … well! And advice about this stuff, is included through much of this website.
If you like, please go on to read the final article, “The Big Picture” in this subsection.